Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)

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This page contains information regarding a plant "known to be poisonous" to goats as well as other animals. This information was researched from various resources. Please note, that the author is not a botanist or specialist regarding plants. This information is posted for your reference and comparison purposes only.

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(milkweed family)

Cyanogenetic Containing Plant - Milkweeds, such as common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, get their name from the thick, sticky, milky sap that oozes out of cut or torn leaves, stems, and fresh pods. The usually solitary stems of milkweed grow 1 to 5 feet tall and bear opposite (sometimes whorled), sometimes fleshy leaves with entire margins. Flowers emerge in umbrella-like clusters and range in color from pink to rose-purple to orange or white. The fruit is a pod with "tufted" seeds. A dozen species of milkweeds grow in Midwest woods and swamps, but most commonly in dry soils of fields and road-sides. Dogbanes (Apocynum spp.), which are easily confused with milkweeds, are found in the same habitats and may cause similar poisoning.

Stems, leaves, roots.

There are several different types of milkweeds with varying degrees of toxicity, with the whorled milkweeds being the most toxic. Milkweed plants are considered unpalatable and are eaten only when other forages are not available, and may also be found in hay and processed feeds. The primary toxicants are cardiac glycosides that cause gastrointestinal, cardiac and respiratory problems and can cause death if enough is consumed. Resins (especially galitoxin) in the milky sap may also contribute to the toxicity of milkweed. In ruminants, the first signs are incoordination, muscle tremors and spasms, bloat, increased heart rate, breathing problems, and occasionally death. Horses are very reluctant to eat this plant, and its toxicity is only rarely reported: colic, diarrhea, abnormal heart rate and rhythm, rarely death. In animals that are capable of vomiting (pigs, dogs, cats, humans), this is the first sign to develop and is beneficial in that further absorption of the toxin is lessened. Horses cannot vomit, and vomiting is not generally observable in ruminants (if vomiting occurs, the contents still remain in the rumen), therefore toxic signs will be worse in these species.

Low to moderate. Milkweeds are unpalatable, and have variable toxicities. Death is not likely unless large quantities are consumed.

All animals may be affected. Sheep are most at risk, but cattle, goats, horses, poultry, and pets are also at risk

Gastrointestinal irritation (primarily vomiting and diarrhea), incoordination, tremors, heart problems, respiratory difficulty, death.

There is no antidote if an animal consumes milkweed. It is important to limit further ingestion of the plants or contaminated feed. If the animal recently consumed a large amount of the plant, a veterinarian should be called so that the gastrointestinal tract can be emptied and supportive care provided. Small tastes of the plants tend to result in minor oral irritation, and serve as a deterrent to further consumption, and these little nibbles typically do not require treatment.

Milkweed is toxic both fresh and dried, therefore hay, silage, green chop, and processed feeds that contain milkweed are never safe for consumption.

Animals will avoid milkweed as long as there is sufficient forage available. Care must be taken to avoid incorporation of milkweed into prepared feeds and hay, and these feeds should be discarded.

Purina Mills

Agricultural Research Service

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